Sunday, January 25, 2015


How would life look differently if each of us lived every moment intentionally, making the most of every opportunity in a life of love?  How would my life and interactions be different?

I don’t usually make New Years resolutions, mainly because (for me) it could easily develop into an excuse for laziness.  While examining lifestyle and habits yearly can be helpful and healthy, something more like weekly or monthly would look more realistic in my life.

Because when I choose to make a change, I really want to mean it, not just for today or this month or this year
Because I inevitably get tired, fall short, and fail.

If we are meant to live our moments intentionally, I don’t want to waste them with empty entertainment, useless worrying, or even just a harmless time-waster, like packing peanuts filling the holes in a chest of priceless treasure.  My times are in God’s hands, and each one is a gift. 

This New Year is a reminder to soak of the moments of joy, and not to take them for granted.  A call to praise when I am exhausted and frustrated and desperately in need of wisdom.  A step towards continued excellence when mediocrity begins to look tempting.

I will live, and God will be glorified.  But how will I live in pursuit of that glory?

Not on my own…never on my own – this much is certain.

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children, and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God…be very careful then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Eph 5: 1-2, 15-16

Sunday, August 10, 2014

my dreams were too small

I entered my fourth decade this summer…a subtle shift that crept up on me; one I’m not quite sure how to understand.  Society tells me I’m a career woman now that I’ve turned 30, an adult, a responsible person.  Surely there should have been fireworks, or a gray hair, or something to indicate a momentous change?  Instead I had an explosion of balloons and young Berea staffers, thoughtfully throwing me a surprise party in my own camp infirmary waiting room, in the same place I celebrated a twenty-second birthday and an NCLEX exam passed eight years before.  Time stopped for a moment.
I feel like nothing has changed in ten years – I am still giving my time in overflowing handfuls of packed summer weeks spent fixing others, still wandering through markets in search of bookshelves to furnish yet another apartment, still (if you would believe the hospital secretaries) looking no older than the college students I teach.

Nothing has changed, and at the same time everything has changed.

Had someone told my twenty-year-old self what to expect of the next ten years, I would not have mocked or scoffed.  But I might have gaped a bit, incredulous, at the wild tale spun out before me, at the bits and handfuls I’ve gathered to share on this blog, and so much more that never made it onto the web but are instead carved permanently on the corners of my soul.  It was not in me to doubt or deny, but there are threads of the unknown and almost insane that I never would have thought to weave in on my own.

I was shy and quiet and driven then, and my North Country rugged values met Asian culture and dress standards in the deliberate grace of a Sundanese dance, and in the awkward realizations that my eyes and hair and identity documents would never match the culture of my heart.  I had only just begun wearing clothes that actually showed my figure, only glimpsed the realization that I was expected to look people in the eye rather than stare at their feet in a modest respect they could never understand.  I was finding the balance of my own rhythm in a world I had finally started to accept, even to call comfortable, but never to claim as mine.
Mine were the barefoot walks of forests and streams.  Mine were the muddied footpaths between sawah and glittering sunsets in a thousand nuanced colors, where the call to prayer echoed off volcanoes on every side.

There was barely a hint of the emergency nurse in my college student mind.  No dreams of Africa, of sailing the high seas, or of muddied land rover expeditions in search of surgical patients.  I knew two languages, two lands, and my heart was already divided between two continents and cultures.  I knew the call of God on my heart, and I stubbornly tried to hold what I found familiar along with that call.  I would have settled, with no idea of the wonder and blessings I would have missed.  The wonderful adventures of life I have wholeheartedly embraced these last few years would have whispered past, unseen and unknown.

I dreamed with the shy exuberance of youth, vivid and uninformed.  It’s not that my dreams were wrong or sinful.  They were only small and shallow and naive; as I eagerly filled my own little cup and looked ignorantly past the deep well God was digging for me.  I could not see that my own dreams were too small to hold all that God was planning, the careful and eternal weaving of the One who holds the world together.

I ask sometimes, why life didn’t go the way I planned.  But I cannot ask with the petulance of a child, but instead with awed wonder at this lavish gift…why me?  What have I done to deserve this?

And the answer is…absolutely nothing.  Nothing more than to follow in obedience and trust.  And as I follow and find delight in who God is, my own dreams and desires have been molded and re-formed, and I pray they continue to change until I want nothing more than to know Him and make Him known.

My life has not been all that I dreamed, these last ten years.  It’s been more.  Oh, so much more.  I cannot wait to see what the next ten hold!

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. ~ Psalm 37:4

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Snow on bare feet

I have lived in a different sort of existence these last months, my time filled with writing and grading papers and hospital clinicals, with food by the handful here and there and the majority of my apartment time spent in exhausted sleep and the occasional dish washing.  Somewhere along the way my muse hibernated away in a stained wooden crate, tucked up in quilts and waiting patiently until my life quieted enough that I could take the time to coax him out with reflection in sunshine through the fat snowflakes falling, a handful of dried apples and venison jerky, and a cup of steaming spicy chai.

Autumn came and went on my friendly new campus, with wind in the leaves swirling a glorious blaze of color and fog poking tendrils up around the windows, treks through the public market, and apples of every kind by the bushel.  I graded never-ending papers in coffee shops and on couches and on car trips, and when I wasn’t grading I wrote my own research papers every weekend afternoon and evening, curled up under a blanket on the couch or mainlining coffee next to the gas fireplace at Panera.

I budgeted in time with friends: 2-4 hours a week, or they were welcome to join me with their own work in the new rhythm that had become my life.  Because instead of life to the rhythm of the triumphant djembe I had temporarily traded for the endless soft song of the pianist by firelight – touching only those souls who came near enough to stop and listen, entranced, hummingbirds in amber.

Winter came one day to lightly kiss the tips of the grass and ends of tree branches, then dropping snow on my bare feet in a gentle reminder that I should really start wearing some winter-appropriate shoes.  My thermals and I longed for some outdoor adventure, but they patiently wrote papers with me instead until my landlord finally dropped off a space heater and I could feel my fingers again.  The crockpot and I became inseparable.

The first day of Christmas break was like waking from a busy and tiring dream (one of those dreams where I rushed around doing CPR and saving lives all night) and preparing to face reality only to realize that the dream is my reality along with the waking, two sides to the same coin of my newly changed life in transition.

Many have asked if I miss Africa and the Africa Mercy, why I would leave, and if I ever would go back.  The honest answer is that I do miss that life and those people, with all my heart.  I didn’t leave because had lost that love – I left because it was time to go.

Time to go, while I still deeply love what I do.  I could not wait until the frustrations of life crept in, until I lost enough patients I could no longer grieve, and changed roommates until I could no longer be excited for the ones I would have.  Perhaps I'll be back, or not, but I know that I'll have each small thing I learned to take with me through life - whether it will be life in Rochester, back on ship, or exploring some new direction.

There are challenges and adventures prepared especially for me here and now: people to serve, lives and hearts to touch as they grow.  It is a vastly different calling for a time, and yet really not so different at all.  Somehow I’ve discovered that God can be found in America, too.

Friday, August 23, 2013


Yesterday is gone, tomorrow has not yet come.  We have only today.  Let us begin. ~ Teresa of Calcutta

Sometimes I wake up and realize…my room is too big.  There should be at least 2 or 3 or 5 other women living in my bedroom with me (probably Canadian or German or British or Dutch), and they’re not there.    There are no drums calling me from my office to come and dance, no brown children to borrow, and no one understands my Krio.  Also, my magnetic poetry won't stick to the walls.  Somewhere here in the last two months my life changed drastically.

It is strange to think that my ship has sailed, wards are being stripped and waxed and bleached and new nurses are being trained, that surgical screenings will be in a week or so and I won’t be there to welcome the faces of poverty and of hope.  Mercy Ships was my yesterday, and a wonderful yesterday it was.  Those responsibilities are someone else’s today.

Let me share my today with you.   

Today I get to welcome students, and share what it means to be a nurse who loves Christ.  Today I teach injection technique and cardiac assessment and med-surg clinicals.  Today I am here to encourage the heart and vision of our calling to care with tomorrow’s professionals.  Today I am a clinical instructor at Roberts Wesleyan College.

Today I am making yogurt and kneading bread.  Today I am sanding crates to make bookshelves, and decorating my apartment with fresh flowers in canning jars and wildly African curtains.  Today I am taking a walk with a friend, or driving to meet them for coffee.  Today I am attending a new church.  Today I am exploring a new home.

Today I have articles to read and papers to write and classes to attend.  Today I am a graduate student.

I don’t know what my tomorrows will hold.   None of us can. But I can wholly trust the One who does.

We have only today.  Let us begin.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A special kind of grace

I wasn’t sure I wanted to leave, but I knew I couldn't stay.  It was time for the next chapter of the story, the next leg of the journey...time to follow Love as he led me away from the crazy life I had grown to love over the last three years.  

I had been given grace for a time to enjoy the close quarters and appreciate the “assisted living” environment of the Africa Mercy, despite my fierce longing for independence.  I was given grace to move countries every year, try another new tribal language, and another, and another.  Grace to patiently orient seas of new nurses, to put up with short supplies and the challenges of working through translators all the time…the grace to look past ugliness and superstition and abandonment to celebrate new lives and to find my place and purpose in loving others.  

It took a patient reminder and the exuberant joy and sorrow of an inland screening trip to remind me that this time on Mercy Ships was not meant to be forever.  It was a place to learn and grow, to dig my roots deep into being grounded in Christ, a time to build and be built up, to love and be loved in return. But it was time to move to a new home - home for now with no promise of forever.  

I will miss Africa and my ship hospital and incredible co-workers with all my heart, but I don’t regret the calling to life in America again.  This is a new mission for the here and now, one that I embrace and wrestle as I did with the move overseas – full of new challenges and new joys.

The place and people have changed, but the purpose has not.  Can I love the forgotten and needy of America for Jesus too?  They are equally lost, hurt, lonely, and unloved.

 I still serve the same God, but I am praying for a special kind of grace.  I’m praying for patience to put up with the nuisances of adult responsibility in the Western world.  For quick recall as I start work in the hospitals again – because the hospitals and healthcare here are vastly different from my familiar ship wards.  For wisdom in where to live and how to teach well, for courage to speak out and be an agent of change for my country and my world, to His glory...

God, give me grace to be an American.

Friday, June 14, 2013


I love sailing.  The hectic pace of life slows into final reports and meetings and handover, a time to think over all that God has done the last few months, to mentally close a chapter in the adventure I call life and plot out the next - handwritten in ink and saltwater and sea breezes and stars.  It's a different challenge I face this time, because I'm not just closing the Guinea chapter and sailing on through West Africa.  This time I'm closing the Mercy Ships part of the story written in sweat and blood and tears and large amounts of drool, closing that to open something new, because I'm trusting God enough to let this go for now.  The extravagance of His grace and the touch of a mighty hand on my life mean a wild destiny I could never have dreamed up, a poem of life written especially for me.

I am surrounded by God's extravagance.  Every day the sea and sky are a different shade of blue, the foamy spray off the bow full of sparkles and rainbows and sunlight and exuberant dolphins racing and dancing alongside.  Every night the skies are shot through with color and the stars come to sing with us of God's goodness.

My small ship was passing through - here and gone again.  This beauty is here regardless of whether I witness it or not - a lavishly beautiful creation on display for the glory of the extravagant art show I am blessed to be a part of!


 The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy. 
~ Psalm 65:8

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

These last days

Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Yes our hearts can say
Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did you leave us on our own
You are faithful, God You are faithful.

I reflected on those words yesterday as the piano music faded and our nurses and dayworkers began to share stories of God's goodness and faithfulness throughout the outreach here in Guinea.

"They came hidden under shawls and wraps, eyes dropped in shame.  It has been amazing to see the patients blossom into confidence..."

"There was a certain man who was very difficult when he first came.  He would not eat the food because it had been prepared by Christians.  He would not even eat food from the market if it had been brought by Christians.  But before he left he chased after me and asked for a Bible..."

"We have had some patients who were close to death, but we have not lost even one in our hospital during this outreach.  There is one who almost died who is very happy now...she calls me often and sends her greetings to all the nurses and the doctors."

We've not walked alone these last months, and our patients have not either.  Patients and papas and brothers and cousins stood eagerly Sunday to share with us what God had done for them.  The testimonies went long past the planned close of the ward service and continued - testimonies of past shame and persistent search for help, stories of hope and promise for a future.

A, B, and C ward all stand empty and well-cleaned tonight, and D ward will soon follow.  My last few nursing shifts were a week ago: a busy set of evenings my friend Hannah (and many of my co-workers here) laughingly call "typical Laura Coles shifts." No quiet evenings for me...if I'm working it's pretty much a guarantee there will be excitement of some form or other, whether it's diagnoses of contagious illness, walk-ins, babies with difficulty breathing, pager calls, sending patients off to surgery, or taking restless kids out into the hallway to race each other until night shift arrives.  I soaked it in, savoring each minute of the controlled chaos and thankful for a distraction from the quickly approaching finish line: the end of the outreach, next tomorrow.  It's a bittersweet week, but not a week of goodbyes.

I don't want to say goodbye.

I'll say "see you later" instead, in any way and every language you choose...sampai nanti, au revior, auf wiedersehen, oohwuwo, a go se yu bak.

I've said it over the last few months, to the tiny cleft-whiskered babies with their heart-shaped nasal bolsters and their parents who love them so fiercely.  I whispered it to Kadi as she slept against my heart during ward church Sunday, and when she ran down the hallway her last night here with no pants, giggling hysterically at the nurse chasing her.  I hugged my au reviors to Halima as she shuffle-danced to the beat of her own drum and blew little sideways kisses on my cheek, and to Lamin with his pirate eyepatch and taped-on gloves and too-big surgical mask when he showed up to join in our cleaning shift yesterday.  I sang oohwuwo to Fodi and Nanfadema and Bala and Mariatou with their brand-new faces, their new confidence, and changed lives that lie ahead.

As our patients leave the ship and travel back to homes and villages across West Africa, they will not travel alone.  I pray they would see God's faithfulness and provision, and sing with joy despite their scars and struggles.  I pray their neighbors and families would notice a change and begin to wonder, to ask why the outcast devil baby no longer looks like a devil, and how the curse that caused a face to melt has been reversed.  I hope they ask why there is new life, new confidence, hope and a future...that they would ask and find the answers.

As our ship leaves Guinea and I fly home, I will not be walking alone either.  Never once will I ever walk alone...God is faithful to go before me and with me, so I can lift my hands in confident surrender to sing

Carried by Your constant grace
Held within Your perfect peace
Never once, no, I never walk alone...